It’s no secret that Southampton have one of the greatest youth academies in the world.
Every season there are several incredible talents that stand on the cusp of the first-team, before finally being introduced to the rigours of Premier League football.
The Saints side that reached the 2005 FA Youth Cup Final boasted Adam Lallana, Nathan Dyer and Theo Walcott, whilst Welsh superstar Gareth Bale was among the substitutes.
The future seems similarly bright for the south coast side in the present. Michael Obafemi, who bagged a hat-trick in this stage of the competition last year, started in Saints’ first-team fixture against Manchester United at the weekend.
The FA Youth Cup played an integral part of Obafemi’s progression, and the potential Saints stars of tomorrow were paired with a Rotherham side hoping to at least match their cup run from last season.
The Millers typically play regionalised fixtures around their Yorkshire home, meaning their trip to St Mary’s was by far the longest they’ve faced this campaign.
Before the clash, Southampton striker Christian Norton had labelled the Youth Cup a ‘special competition’, and said:
“There’s a lot of important people watching - they can change your future. So, it’s a huge platform for us as individuals, and as a team, to show what we’re capable of.”
And it was Norton who handed Saints the lead 16 minutes after the home side had dominated the opening exchanges.
A free-flowing move along the left channel was worked to full back James Morris, who delivered toward the far post for the front-man to emphatically head home.
Youngster Will Ferry admitted before kick-off that playing at stadiums is always “a big occasion”, and the flying winger almost played a crucial role in doubling Saints’ lead.
An incisive, perfectly-weighted pass carved Rotherham’s defence wide open and found the feet of Norton, who had darted in behind his marker. But with just the onrushing goalkeeper Elliott Ellis to beat, the Southampton forward arrowed his strike narrowly off target.
Ferry would then get close himself minutes later, but a bending effort that seemed destined to nestle into the far corner was well parried away by Ellis.
Some magical footwork from the tricky Enzo Robise almost rounded off another positive showing from Southampton, but the wide-man’s audacious strike at the near post failed to trouble Ellis.
The victory was finally secured at 88 minutes after a superb pass from substitute Benni Smales-Braithwaite fell to the livewire Ferry, who coolly dispatched beyond Ellis.
With their spot in the fourth round of the competition secured, many of Saints’ talented youth prospects will be hoping to flourish once again and follow in the footsteps of so many of their predecessors.